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Historic Gloucester Fishing Port Hit by Perfect Economic Storm

  • Ted Landphair

Historic Gloucester Fishing Port Hit by Perfect Economic Storm

Historic Gloucester Fishing Port Hit by Perfect Economic Storm

Overfishing led to regulations that then drained jobs from a Massachusetts town

Recently, we told you about New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world before the discovery of petroleum made whale oil virtually obsolete and sent the Massachusetts city into steep decline.

That was a century ago, but now the pattern has re-emerged up the Massachusetts coast in Gloucester which is America's oldest fishing port. Its prime catch was not whales. It was cod, haddock, and flounder. These are all types of groundfish that swim atop the giant Georges Bank sandbar far out in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Fisherman's Memorial, dedicated to Gloucester's sailors lost at sea in 1925, is also used as the advertising model for products of the Gorton's of Gloucester fish packing company

The Fisherman's Memorial, dedicated to Gloucester's sailors lost at sea in 1925, is also used as the advertising model for products of the Gorton's of Gloucester fish packing company

Thirty years ago, more than 500 boats brought their catches into Gloucester each afternoon. The number is one-third of that now.

The decline is due in part to overfishing, which led to a blizzard of regulations intended to save whitefish like cod and yellowtail flounder from virtual extinction. The Gloucester fleet must now live with restricted fishing grounds and rules requiring nets with a larger mesh that allow small fish to escape to spawn another day.

A Gloucester fisherman dries and repairs his net

A Gloucester fisherman dries and repairs his net

Unemployment in Gloucester runs right about the national average of 10 percent but is much higher on the docks. Dozens of repair shops, fish cleaning and fish packing plants have simply gone out of business.

New Englanders still savor their cod cakes, baked haddock and fried flounder, but a majority of these fish are now caught by Canadians or Norwegians. Gloucester's fishing crew, which is aging without much prospect of attracting younger recruits, is mostly reduced to catching species considered unappetizing here at home. Dogfish, for instance, go to Britain for fish and chips. Massachusetts squid are a delicacy in Asia. And Koreans not only love Gloucester eels; they also skin them to make wallets.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.

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